When a television series can cause you to question your own existence while simultaneously requiring you to Google what in the hell you just watched for the past 60 minutes, it’s a fairly safe bet the show’s producers are doing something right.
The first season of HBO’s Westworld falls in to the above described paradigm. Not since the days of the mysterious but polarizing series LOST which started airing back in 2004, have I found myself resorting to the “holder-of-all-truths” (aka the internet), to try and decipher the events of a television episode mere seconds after viewing it. Thus, it’s probably no surprise to anyone then, J.J. Abrams was an executive producer for the sci-fi island drama and is currently in a similar role on the western theme park concept inspired by the 1979 Michael Crichton film of the same name.
Unlike LOST however, Abrams and company are not hellbent on keeping mysteries under lock and key indefinitely, and in some cases, forever. The practice of answering a question with another question is heavily subdued – if not completely absent – and most major plot secrecies are revealed by season’s end. If nothing else, it’s a refreshing change to the constant stream of procedural shows that like to dangle the series’ overarching mythological carrots over their audiences until the final seconds of their twenty-ninth season. That’s not to say everything was wrapped up with a neat little bow either. There are still plenty of open storylines and unanswered subplots to keep the series going for the five-year run the creative team has currently mapped out.
The truth of the matter is, the direction taken with Westworld’s initial offering may have had more to do with HBO not being fully certain whether the high-concept big budget show would have the money-making legs to spawn into an ongoing series or live on forever as a one-shot miniseries event. This is clearly evident based on a season two announcement not being made official until only a couple weeks before the series’ first season finale.
Given that many of revelations to the larger plot questions were done in such a brilliant way, I will be revealing major spoilers as I list the reasons I feel Westworld is a “reverie” above the rest.
Spoilers go online…. NOW!
SILLY ROBOTS, CONSCIOUSNESS IS FOR HUMANS
There have been many a tale told over recent years about robots with artificial intelligence that inevitably win over audiences with their quirky innocence and eventual wherewithal to do the just thing. Westworld has upped the ante by introducing robots that not only seem more real than their human counterparts, but contemplate their own existence in a world where humans only question which android their going to kill or fornicate with next. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)
WHEN ARE WE?
No, there is no time travel involved with Westworld, however the audience does eventually learn they are experiencing one storyline take place between two different timelines. In addition to Abrams, it should also be of no surprise to anyone the involvement of Jonathan Nolan, who wrote Interstellar in addition to the short story that spawned a small little feature-film titled Memento. The two time bandits, with the help of the rest of the show’s creative team, do a stellar job of selling the audience on all subplots occurring simultaneously while shrewdly delivering a longer tale that just happens to be bouncing between two points on a timeline.
THE MAN IN BLACK GETS WHAT HE WANTS
Ed Harris does a superb job of playing the cowboy with the dark duds all while keeping his motives close to the vest. Much ado is made about a secret maze hidden in the park for which Harris’s character is on a do-or-die mission to solve. It’s not until near the finale the audience learns what he hopes to find at this maze. Due to prior experience in the park, his interest is in Westworld becoming a true fight for survival with real stakes. Needless to say, the oft repeated words of wisdom “be careful what you wish for” will most likely show up in his next fortune cookie… if he’s like enough to see his next meal.
EVERYTHING EVOLVES… EVEN ROBOTS
Interestingly enough, no one in the series ever refers to the human-like creations as robots, but rather hosts. Regardless of this marketing ploy meant to dissuade the park guests and the viewing audience from viewing the mechanical masterpieces as just parts and programming, the eerily accurate humanoid replicas are only products of their creators. It’s no coincidence that the hosts who remember brief moments being repaired by the human tech teams, refer to those engineering geeks as Gods.
Sir Hopkins is one of the few legends in Hollywood where you hang on every word that spills from his mouth, even if you don’t know what it means. Hopkins portrayal of Westworld’s founder is one of those performances that is creepy, mysterious and mesmerizing all at once. Hopkins brilliantly plays the role of wise old man whom keeps you wondering if he’s just an innocent relic trying to hold onto the last pieces of his beloved creation, or a creepy mad scientist with nefarious plans not part of the park’s mission statement. The truth lies somewhere in between.
MORE WORLDS THAN THE WEST
As noted on a few occasions in the Crichton film of the same name, Westworld is only one of several themed park-like experiences available to those with Warren Buffet like bank accounts. Thankfully, HBO’s show provided proof of artificial life that there are indeed other words to explore in this universe also with the sneak treat viewers were given of SamuraiWorld. I don;t usually like to tip my own hat, but the inclusion of other realms seemed like a no-brainer to me as it gives the series the potential for a larger story arc and a longer shelf life, which in turn means more dollar bills for the cable network.
HUMANITY IS FLAWED, AND SO ARE ITS CREATIONS
In this geek’s perspective, one of the most prominent takeaways from Westworld revolves around the fact, no matter how hard we try, we as humans will always be flawed. The series focuses on the business of building a better human, in some cases for sport, but in other cases to prove we can play God better than God himself. I mean yeah, we can procreate new earthlings the natural way and wait for them to mature to teach them stuff, or we can create new being, at any age, with any memory, without the wait. Think of it as the fast food of cloning.
You gotta give it to HBO, they know their scores. Much like GAME OF THRONES opening title them has carved a niche into pop culture auditory history, Westworld‘s haunting opening is just as good, albeit not as upbeat. Appropriately, the tune has a western feel but with an elegant vibe in part due to the liberal use of piano an hypnotic visuals.
The genius behind the moral questions of Westworld is that there would be no Westworld if it were not for the human beings who created the stunning entertainment ecosphere for the species’ own consumption. That alone gives me faith the extraordinary biological creation that is the human being, won’t ultimately give in to the potentially superior artificial intelligence it fashions in its own image. On the other robotic hand appendage, maybe the conception of Westworld-esque humanoids is the next positive step in the evolution of our species. Hell, if the later can get season two of HBO’s new hit series out sooner than 2017, I say bring on the robot hosts.